Saturday, December 17, 2011

'Rock of Ages' - my new favourite guilty pleasure

The posters up at tube stations really do speak the truth when talking about London's best new guilty pleasure musical or whatever the exact wording is. I had heard pretty good things about Rock of Ages. However, since I am not a complete rock music fanatic, I was not in too much of a rush to see it right away. The opportunity presented itself on Monday when I found out there were £12 stalls tickets (inc. booking fee) available for 16-26 year-olds for this particular performance. Not missing out on a deal like that! The seats we were allocated were brilliant as well! Almost bang in the middle of the auditorium so we could see the whole stage without obstruction.

Rock of Ages at Shaftesbury Theatre, London
Performance: 16th December at 17:30 (such a random time for a show! No wonder they have cheap tickets for this and no wonder the show was u/s dominated)
Cast included: Grant Anthony (Dennis, u/s), Shayne Ward (Stacee Jaxx), Jamie Muscato (Drew, u/s), Jodie Jacobs (Sherrie, u/s), Simon Lipkin (Lonny), Zizi Strallen (Regina, u/s), Rohan Tickell (Hertz), Sandy Moffatt (Franz), Rachel McFarlane (Mother), Carly Mercedes Dyer (Mother, u/s, took over in the second act)

According to the programme, the show would include 31 rock hits (of which I only recognised 7). That made me scared: How on earth would they fit that many songs as well as a plot of some sort into a 2,5h show? There was no way for it to overrun too much either since the next performance was due to start at 20:30. 
The answer: Surprisingly well. It was to a great extent a rock concert but there was an attempt of a plot: Sherrie moves to California to become an actress. She meets Drew, an aspiring rock star, at the club where he works, which is owned by Dennis. Hertz and his son Franz appeal to the Mayor in order to create a rock 'n' roll place of the much beloved city and Regina (who wishes her name to be pronounced so it rhymes with 'vagina'), the Mayor's PA, makes it her task to protest against the reform which the Mayor agrees to. The two men then go on to tell Dennis that the club will be shut down. Drew and Sherrie, predictably, fall for each other but Drew does not communicate his feelings clearly enough and so Sherrie ends up getting off with Stacee Jaxx, the real rock star whom all the girls are after. I will not reveal any more for those of you who want to go and see it but, well, the plot is fairly predictable. It should perhaps not be criticised for that, however, because this musical is very much a feel-good one focused on the songs and might suffer rather than benefit from having a complicated plot. Having seen We Will Rock You, I preferred Rock of Ages in terms of the storyline.

I recognised Jamie Muscato from the children's sitcom My Parents Are Aliens which I used to love. That was slightly surreal to begin with but I forgot that as soon as he started to sing as his vocals were phenomenal. I did not expect a voice as big as that. 
Jodie did a brilliant job of Sherrie who, as a character, initially reminded me of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. The slightly breathy quality of voice suited the genre perfectly. 
Simon Lipkin was an absolute legend. Lonny, his character, acted as a narrator for the story so he addressed the audience and commented on what was going on. It seemed almost like he was improvising some of his performance. Particular point where I suspected this was when he was explaining Drew that he is an actor in a musical and showing him a copy of the very same Rock of Ages programme that was lying in my lap. Lonny said something along the lines of: "Look, there you are! Awww, look at that baby face. You have short hair there but long hair here *tugging Drew's hair*. Short there but long here. How old are you here *points at Jamie's picture in the programme*? Four?" He then went onto saying how he thought Drew should do his hair. Both Simon and Jamie were cracking up at this point but it was not a big deal as the moment was not too serious. So Simon Lipkin was very relaxed and funny. 

Other special mentions go to:

  • Rohan Tickell's gorgeous voice
  • Sandy Moffatt who was responsible for the funniest line in the play: "I'm not gay, I'm just German!", he reminded me of a male version of Galinda in Wicked (if those two were in a show together it would turn out a complete disaster)
  • Shayne Ward who was a great actor
  • The fabulous dancers
Not only did the actors address the audience, they were also running around, through the audience as a part of the show which was a nice add. The audience was really encouraged to get involved (although not quite as involved as a bunch of girls on our right across the aisle did with the help of some alcohol - not only were they loud at inappropriate points but they also got up to go to the toilet constantly). This sort of involvement and a kind of team spirit that developed is not that common in the West End I think. The only other time I have gotten the feeling that the audience really is there to support the performers was at Shrek the Musical so it really is not given. (And that resulted in the hot guys sitting on my left even saying 'hi' to us!)

Would I recommend Rock of Ages? Yes, I would. If you like rock music, even better I'm sure but my friend and I don't know very much about rock music and we still agreed that it was a great night out. Go see it. The theatre staff are very friendly as well and they gave us small glowy things that we could wave in the air during the performance! :D

Official website:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Les Misérables' first (No, I had never seen it before)

Those people who know a bit more about me and my interest in musical theatre have expressed their shock when I have told them that I have neither seen this legendary musical nor know what it is about. I own a copy of the audio recording of the 10th anniversary concert (much love for Colm Wilkinson, Philip Quast, Ruthie Henshall etc.) and I have had that playing in the background but I had not listened to the lyrics particularly carefully. And of course I was familiar with some well-known songs like On My Own, I Dreamed A Dream and Do You Hear the People Sing? but aside from that I was very much in the dark until yesterday. 

I will put down some of the things I discovered and liked about the show. No heavy criticism as I don't want to offend anyone. Again, feel free to add your own comments :) 

Before the show: I thought Les Mis was was a story about war in which everyone dies. That will sound absolutely ridiculous to those of you who know the musical. It sounds ridiculous to me now that I have seen it. And I walked into the auditorium quietly singing Do You Hear the People Sing? to myself (and I left at the end still singing that).

Les Misérables at Queen's Theatre in London
Performance on 14th December 2011 at 14:30
Seat: Quite far back in the upper circle but in the middle of the row so I could still see the whole stage. I had binoculars with me.
Cast inc.: Ramin Karimloo (Jean Valjean), Hadley Fraser (Javert), A J Callaghan (Fantine, u/s), Alexia Khadime (Eponine), Lisa-Anne Wood (Cosette), Craig Mather (Marius), Liam Tamne (Enjolras), Cameron Blakely (Thénardier), Katy Secombe (Madame Thénardier)

I very much wanted to see Ramin in this since I've seen him in both The Phantom of the Opera and Love Never Dies before and I absolutely adore his voice. He sang beautifully; especially Bring Him Home was incredible and that long note at the end of Soliloquy genuinely made me jump - I just did not expect it to come out as strong as it did. The audience was quite lame and that combined with the fact that there are not many breaks for the audience to applaud in, everyone sat fairly silently. The only time there was a proper cheer before the curtain call was after Bring Him Home so there really was something extraordinary about that performance.
I have been hearing people doubting how well Ramin could play the part of Jean Valjean because they simply could not picture him do it. A friend of mine pointed out that Enjolras, whom Ramin has played before, is probably a  more suitable part for him. While I am not denying that Ramin was incredible and he adapted his vocals perfectly to the role, I can still see why some people might lean towards preferring him as Enjolras. His voice would have been perfectly suited to that part.

What was the best thing about the show? If I was to say just one thing I would say Javert's coat. I think his coat was really cool! Well that got me nicely onto Javert and the fact that Hadley Fraser was great in the part. And I thought it was brilliant how the part-allocation had worked out here thinking back at The Phantom of the Opera 25th anniversary concert in which Ramin played the Phantom and Hadley played Raoul. Anyway, Hadley has a great, great voice!

Many have wondered how Alexia did as Eponine. If I am honest, she did not leave as big an impression as some of the other actors did. I have heard so many great things about her though, that I have come to think she might simply have had a bit of an off-day today. Her voice is very powerful and on occasion it stood out a little bit too much from the cast as a whole in my opinion, slightly due to nasality as well. However, she did add a riff to On My Own which I liked very much!

Particular mentions go to:

  • Lisa-Anne Wood who sang Cosette beautifully. She has quite a pretty, unique voice and I have a feeling we will be hearing of her in the future. Landing a role like this pretty much straight from drama school is no easy thing so she does have talent.
  • Katy Secombe came across as the perfect Madame Thénardier (what a name to spell - I keep having to re-check the spelling every time!) both considering voice and comic ability. 
  • An amazing soprano voice in the ensemble whose owner I failed to identify but in some ensemble sections I could hear it above everyone else. 
  • The little boy who played Gavroche, he seemed so comfortable on stage and made the audience laugh!


  • This musical consists pretty much completely of singing so for people who are not used to paying overly close to attention to lyrics (like me), it is not the easiest one to follow if you do not know the plot.
  • I was surprised by how good the plot was. I am not quite sure why since a legendary musical such as this cannot really afford to have a dull or weird plot.
  • This show relies a lot on a great ensemble and the ensemble numbers were impressive.
  • There are so many markings on the stage - from the upper circle they are really visible.
  • This is no musical for little children; the gunshots really scared me.
  • In the barricade scene, from my seat I was able to see the 'dead' people getting up and exiting the stage behind the barricade.
  • They have effectively taken advantage of the fact that there is a rotating stage.

I am aware that I am probably in the minority by actually reading the synopses in programmes so: If you have a copy of the Les Mis programme but have not read the synopsis, go and have a read for entertainment value. It is quite funny if you imagine how confusing it is for someone who does not know the plot. Not only are there tons of names, some of the sentences are also very long with several clauses, not to mention the occasional imprecise use of personal pronouns:

"Valjean confesses the truth of his past to Marius and insists he must go away." 

Sorry, who must go away? :P

Conclusion: Yes, I am intending to go and see Les Misérables again :) I am not sure how and why I have gone this long without seeing it. In addition, I know the original book by Victor Hugo is big but I might still have a go at reading it!

P.S. If someone knows what the initials in 'A J Callaghan' stand for, please share. I am curious to find out!

Monday, December 12, 2011

'Wicked' muck-up matinee

I have been asked by a couple of people to give some details about what muck-ups took place in the matinee performance on 10th December at Wicked London.

What is a muck-up matinee?
A brief explanation to those who are not familiar with the concept. In the West End shows, musicals in particular, tend to have long runs and there will be changes in the cast along the way. The last matinee of a cast before they leave and another cast takes over is traditionally called a muck-up matinee. In this performance the cast members may choose to tweak the show a little bit by doing ad-libs, swapping costumes or props or by saying each others' lines for instance. Most of the time the changes are of such nature that people who have not seen the show before do not realise that there is anything wrong and in principle it is still a normal performance of the show. 

Here goes:

Principal cast: Rachel Tucker (Elphaba), Louise Dearman (Glinda), Mark Evans (Fiyero), Clive Carter (The Wizard), Julie Legrand (Madame Morrible), Zoe Rainey (Nessarose), Ben Stott (Boq)
This was the last matinee for all principal cast except Rachel and Julie as well as for some ensemble members. 

  • Arrival to Shiz: Nessarose was wearing a blue hat which could later be seen on one of the Shiz students.
  • What Is This Feeling: Elphaba made a face at her reflection in Galinda's mirror.
  • Dancing Through Life (when Glinda decides to give the black hat to Elphaba): Jennifer Tierney (ensemble) used her Scottish accent for "Galinda, what in Oz name?!". She also does this later for "Like a terrible green lizard throughout the land she flies."
  • Ozdust Ballroom: Elphaba did a half-improvised dance which involved her rolling on the floor. Galinda copied her.
  • Popular: Elphaba and Galinda took a really long time to say "green".
  • Popular: The lipstick Galinda put on Elphaba was bright red and sparkly.
  • Popular: Elphaba: "This is never going to work." Galinda *goes to her shoes*: "Ooooh! Shooooooe!"
  • Popular: When Galinda threw her wand off-stage, someone threw it back on and it landed at Elphaba and Galinda’s feet. They looked at it for a long time before Galinda carefully picked it up and threw it off again. 
  • Classroom: Fiyero: "It's just, you've been Galindafied. Toss toss! *giggle*".
  • Classroom: The man who brought in the lion cub had made a small ponytail in his wig and he could not say his 'R's.
  • Lion cub scene (just before 'I'm Not That Girl'): When Fiyero ran across the stage with the lion cub to exit, Galinda ran after him. 
  • Train station: Boq: "I can't do this anymore. Toss toss!"
  • Train station: Fiyero gave Elphaba a green envelope instead of flowers.

  • The Wicked Witch of the East (as Elphaba exits): Elphaba to Nessarose: "Frankly, dear, I don't give a damn."
  • As Long As You're Mine: Not a muck up but I have got to give a mention to Mark's beautiful riff.
  • As Long As You're Mine: Some proper arse-grabbing from Fiyero, Fiyero and Elphaba looked like they were eating each others' faces off during the kiss at the end. It was unclear from where I was sitting whether it was Fiyero pulling Elphaba or Elphaba pushing but they ended up lying onstage on top of each other still kissing.
  • Cat-fight scene: Elphaba and Glinda were fighting for longer because the guards delayed their entrance.
  • Fiyero's capture (after the cat fight): When Fiyero pointed his gun at Glinda, she stepped forward and pressed her forehead against the muzzle. 
  • March of the Witch Hunters: One ensemble member carried a spray-bottle instead of a pitchfork.
  • March of the Witch Hunters: One of the women had a moustache on.
  • March of the Witch Hunters: Some of the wigs had been switched around; some wigs from 'Thank Goodness' were used.
  • Chistery handing Elphaba the note about Fiyero's death: Some other pieces of paper fall onto the floor from Chistery's hand. 
  • Curtain call: Rachel and Louise both wore funny glasses: Rachel yellow and Louise pink ones.
  • Curtain call: Mark did his 'Moves like Mevans' (explanation for that can be found in this video).

This was the first time I attended a muck-up matinee and it was only my second time seeing Wicked in London so I am fairly certain I did not catch all the muck-ups that took place. Please feel free to modify or add to the list by commenting :)

Big thanks to Gemma for adding to my list and to Alisha for confirming a couple of uncertainties.